More than four decades into her career, Judith Light is taking on more projects than ever.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Oh, my God, you’re working more now than you did when you were younger,’” says the actress, who is receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 12. “I have immense gratitude for what’s happening.”
Light’s roles in the past year are as eclectic as they are numerous: an evil nurse in the Lifetime TV movie “Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story”; a pageant coach on Facebook Watch’s “Queen America”; and parts in feature films “Before You Know It” and “Ms. White Light.”
On Sept. 27, she’ll reprise her role as Shelly Pfefferman in the “Transparent” musical series finale. On that same day, Netflix will release Ryan Murphy’s first series for the platform, “The Politician,” in which Light also has a part. Murphy and Brad Falchuk crafted that role specifically for her after previously working with her on “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.”
“What Judith does better than any actor is to create characters that embody just the right combination of competency and longing,” Falchuk says. “It always feels like she’s coming up with what she’s going to say in the moment. She’s also really, really funny.”
While much of Light’s work in the past few years has been on screen, she is receiving her Walk of Fame star for her work on the stage. Light is a three-time Tony winner, including the prestigious Isabelle Stevenson Award for humanitarian work that she picked up in June.
Light credits the time onstage for pushing her as a performer.
“When you are live with all these people who have come to see you, you’re sharing a moment in time; it will never be the same,” she says. “And so the responsibility, the excitement and the adventure of being live in the theater is absolutely thrilling.”
For years, Light collaborated with her now-late manager, Herb Hamsher, to find the best possible roles. Now, she has a bicoastal team of five, and the group discusses what would be right for her. They take into account how it’ll resonate with an audience and how different it is from what she’s already tackled.
The latter is a perk of her long career, Light says. Her variety of performances allows for future collaborators to get an idea of what she can bring to the table.
“I think that’s true for a lot of women who are in my age range,” she says. “They know that we’re available to do lots of different things where we stretch and grow. And once people saw that I could do something else, they started to investigate giving me other things. And that was really how [these new opportunities] began. But I had to do something that challenged me and showed me in a way that let people know that I was there.”
In the 1970s, Light received great acclaim — including two Daytime Emmys — for her role as Karen Wolek on the ABC soap opera “One Life to Live.” Her tenure included an iconic scene in which Karen, a housewife, was interrogated in court and forced to admit she was also a prostitute.
Light was initially skeptical about acting in a soap. “I learned a lot about myself,” she acknowledges. “I learned about my disrespect and disdain for an area of the [industry] that I had no business feeling that way about. And I didn’t like that about myself. There is not an area of this business that is not worthy of everyone’s respect. And that was a huge transformation for me.”
She also stretched her abilities with one of her best-known roles, Angela Bower on ABC’s “Who’s the Boss?”
“That was also a very complex role,” Light says. “It went on for eight years, so it was a constant reminder, at a time when women were beginning to make great change and strides, that there was a woman who was choosing to be in the workplace [with] success, have a man support her at home and take care of [their children], and have a mother who actually supported her as well.”
Although female characters, especially those of a certain age, have been often notoriously underwritten, “nobody’s just a housewife,” Light says. “So for me, it’s always been my responsibility to bring something. If I can bring new vision to a character, that’s out of my respect for the writer. I look to find the clues; it’s a treasure hunt.
“And when I come to a set, a stage, a rehearsal, I always say to the director, ‘I will give you the smorgasbord. You get to choose whether you want to have the brisket or just the bagel.’ The truth is, the more I have brought something like that, the writers begin to see it [and] begin to write to it.”
Among those inspired by Light is “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway.
“She’s one of the best actors of her generation,” Soloway says. “She gets to sing a song [in the finale] that one would call the sort of like operatic aria that all Jewish mothers have ever wanted to sing for their children. She leaves it all on the floor. She just works. She teaches everybody what it means to be a professional, an actress, and to be an advocate. And she’s magic.”
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